As a human destined to forever be under five feet, a fear of heights is a trait I made sure never to possess. As a child, if there was something I couldn’t reach, which happened fairly often, I’d climb. I climbed kitchen countertops to get cups and plates; I climbed the shelves in my closet to reach toys and books; I climbed ladders and fences; I scaled walls. No, I didn’t scale walls, but I certainly tried. With the mean kids consistently looking down on me, I looked for every opportunity I could get to look down on them just perhaps in a more literal sense, which is why the monkey bars, for me, have always been a prime piece of playground equipment.
Certainly, reaching new heights has had its downfalls. There was the time my closet shelves caved in and a whole slew of clothes and books and toys came tumbling down on top of me. There was the time I jumped off the top bunk in my brother’s room and nearly knocked out my teeth. I tried getting a little air on my snowboard and broke both my legs, but in the grand scheme of things, these incidents were fleeting and have instilled no fear in me. When either life or gravity, got me down, I got right back up.
The first set of monkey bars I climbed was at Sickles Park. I remember my dad lifting me up to the first bar and holding me by my waist as I slowly but stubbornly conquered the whole row. Left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand, one bar at a time, all the while wondering if the calluses forming on my soft, young palms would one day look like my father’s rough and weathered hands. I continued climbing across those bars until I didn’t need his help anymore, until I was strong enough to climb up the poles of the jungle gym to reach the first bar instead of having him lift me up. And it was always much more fun releasing my hands at the end and landing on the wood chips like a nimble cat.
This however is not what I really liked about the monkey bars. Once I had acquired the initial skill set, it was time to explore other possibilities. For instance, what if I dangled from the bars upside down? Being the petite daredevil that I was, I of course tried this; however, after dangling for a moment, the blood rushed to my head and I panicked. What now? Was my only option just to land directly on my head? What if I could reverse the position, get my hands back on the bars, and then drop my legs? In true monkey fashion, I held my abs in tight and pressed myself back up so that both my legs and hands gripped the bars, but instead of releasing my legs, I continued lifting myself, and then poked my head through the bars so that I was actually sitting up on top looking down.
Naturally, I wanted to show off my incredible agility to all my peers, let them know that I might be short but I am a damn good climber. Little did I know about the back-fire that comes when one attempts to impress. It was days before the start of second grade. The mothers were busy watching the baseball game while the siblings of the players took to the playground to compare calluses and sunburns and discover who had what teacher. I made a move to the monkey bars and began my climb until I sat on top and waved to all my friends like I was Queen of England. To steady myself, I put my hands on the outside bars and that was when the terrible thing happened. Two wasps shoved their stingers first into my palm and then again in my arm. I screamed, I cried, and some of the kids laughed. Luckily the well-trained ears of a mother brought a rescuer quickly to my aid, but no amount of ointment could heal my hurt from the monkey bars’ betrayal.
I avoided those particular bars for a while and focused on the ones at other playgrounds, even giving the rings a chance. I found quite a bit of enjoyment in the swings and had plenty of laughs on the rickety bridge, but nothing could compare to sitting on top of the bars like Yertle the Turtle being the ruler of all that I could see.
People have made comments about my height my whole life. It happens whenever I meet someone new. After many years of hearing these comments, surprisingly enough, it is still something that manages to upset me. A man at the bar the other night asked my roommate if I’m a midget. I wonder if he has ever seen one before. People ask how short I am in a tone that makes it seem as if they’ve made bets with all their friends, as if I’m some sort of circus sideshow. Some people feel guilty afterward and try to take it back by saying that they like short people, they think short people are so cute, not realizing that they’re just digging themselves a deeper grave, that it probably would’ve been best just to keep the comment to themselves in the first place and see me as an equal. Perhaps my love for heights is my inner way to combat these bully-esque remarks. Look down on me all you want, because when it comes to the things that really matter, I know how to climb and I’ve never been afraid to reach new heights.